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WATCH: Paul Scruggs helps Xavier hold off Niagara

Xavier Musketeers head coach Travis Steele leads a drill during a practice at the Cintas Center on the campus of Xavier University in Cincinnati on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021.

Xavier Musketeers Basketball Practice
Xavier Musketeers head coach Travis Steele leads a drill during a practice at the Cintas Center on the campus of Xavier University in Cincinnati on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021. Xavier Musketeers Basketball Practice

Paul Scruggs had 17 points and six assists and also came up with a key play to help Xavier hold off upset-minded Niagara 63-60 in Cincinnati in the opener for both teams on Tuesday night.

The Musketeers were playing without All-Big East first-team preseason selection Zach Freemantle, out until at least some next month with a foot injury.

Scruggs, also a first-team preseason Big East honoree, made one of two foul shots to give Xavier a 55-50 lead.

Niagara’s Marcus Hammond, who led all scorers with 25 points, then front-rimmed a 3-point attempt. Scruggs grabbed the rebound and then raced up the court for a fast-break layup and a 57-50 lead.

Niagara didn’t get closer than four until the end.

Colby Jones added 16 points for the Musketeers.

The Musketeers opened the second half with an 11-4 run to take a 40-27 lead on Nate Johnson’s 3-pointer from the left wing off a pass from Jones with 13:55 left. Those were Johnson’s only points of the game. Niagara struggled offensively during that span, missing 4 of 6 shots and committing two turnovers.

The Purple Eagles eventually cut their deficit to 49-40 with 7:41 remaining on a layup by Hammond and quickly called a timeout. But Xavier ran down most of the shot clock and answered with a trey from Jones to extend the lead back to 12.

Dwon Odom’s driving layup with 6:58 left in the first half capped an 8-0 run and gave the Musketeers a 21-11 advantage. A three-pointer by Iowa transfer Jack Nunge began the run.

But Niagara hung tough and closed to 25-21 on two foul shots by Hammond with 2:31 left in the half. That gave Hammond 13 points in the half. Xavier claimed a 29-23 halftime lead on Nunge’s basket with two seconds left on an assist by Scruggs.

–Field Level Media